The overturning of Roe and the left's failure of imagination

(George Kraychyk/Hulu via AP)

There’s a podcast up at the NY Times today which attempts to wrestle with what a post-Roe world looks like. Host Jane Coaston and guests Michelle Goldberg (pro-choice) and Ross Douthat (pro-life) spend half an hour arguing over it and the bottom line is that none of them claim to know where the politics go from here because returning this issue to the states means a lot of different outcomes will be happening all at once.

What does come across though is the general outlook of each side of the debate. Goldberg, not surprisingly, feels the overturning of Roe is a gut punch, one which has left her expecting nothing but horror and misery to come.

I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach. The degree of despair I feel about this country, the kind of uncertainty of the dystopian future that we’re hurtling into, it’s just — I mean, it’s grief, it’s fear, it’s rage, despair. I’m hoping that the despair doesn’t last because it’s very demobilizing. It’s kind of what Gramsci said — pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will. I just need to find the optimism of the will part.

Douthat, on the other hand, is feeling more upbeat because of a sense that, whatever happens next, the views of millions of pro-life people are no longer being institutionally ignored.

I mean, there isn’t — I’m happy. You know, I became pro-life, I guess you could say, when I was a teenager. And to be against abortion in the age of Roe v. Wade is to have this kind of, essentially, a version of what Michelle feels in reverse — this sense of deep alienation from the formal interpretation of your country’s constitution, this sense that, according to the people charged with interpreting that constitution your moral convictions are ruled out of bounds, are, at some level, considered un-American.

And you see those two moods guide expectations of what is coming next. For Goldberg, the future is a very dark place.

I think that we’re going to see soon enough. And my bet — and we’ll find this out — is that rather than a right-wing turn towards a more robust welfare state or kind of more communitarian policymaking, we are going to see even more punitive policies. We’re going to see a focus on who can be criminalized. We’re going to see more investigations of miscarriages. We’re going to see doctors in jail.

Asked how the pro-choice side of the debate could undo that outcome, Goldberg makes an interesting admission. Pro-choice people may have to start being a bit more flexible, a bit more willing to open themselves to debate with people they don’t agree with.

I was just watching this documentary called “Battleground,” which is a pro-choice filmmaker following around — most of the documentary is her following around these women leaders of the anti-abortion movement. And there’s this one scene that I keep thinking about where they’re doing this online training for “Students for Life” of how to argue with pro-choice people online. And they’re kind of trying to lure young pro-choicers into, like, comment-section debates.

And I just think this is so different than what the left does in general, you know, where the attitude is so often like, why should I have to debate you? Or why should I have to adopt a sort of vocabulary that is intelligible to you? I think that there’s going to have to be some rethinking about the way the movement interacts with people who might be sympathetic or at least persuadable but aren’t on board with the entire reproductive justice agenda.

Douthat piggybacked on that statement by noting the reason pro-choice people haven’t needed to debate the issue is that the entire culture was in lock-step agreement with them. Pro-lifers were just a sort of novelty they never had to really engage beyond a few talking points supplied by the abortion industry. He calls is a failure of imagination:

Michelle was describing, this tendency, on the pro-choice side, to say, we shouldn’t even have to have this argument. The difference between the pro-life side and the pro-choice side, one difference, is that the commanding heights of American media and academia are pro-choice, so that you can live your life in sort of the American intelligentsia and hardly ever encounter sort of sustained pro-life arguments, like what pro-lifers actually think.

And I think you see this in the reactions to the ruling and the reactions from people who are sort of liberals who don’t think about this issue a lot. It’s like this sort of novelty that there are people who are against abortion. And there is, I think, a failure of imagination that goes to the pro-choice side’s struggle to win over people in the middle, right, where it’s like, oh, the pro-life side, wait, they actually believe in the humanity of the fetus? No, surely they just want to control women, and impose Gilead, and so on right.

And that’s when Douthat get to the fundamental change that Goldberg is studiously overlooking: “There are already thousands of people alive, right now, in Texas who would have been aborted. And that’s the heart of the pro-life argument and you with that argument if you’re going to win over people to your side of the case.”

He’s right but, unfortunately, we never get to hear Goldberg’s response because at that moment Coaston closes the show. We’ve finally gotten to the central premise of the pro-life argument, i.e. that living babies are a good thing, and apparently there was no more time to discuss it.

Having listened to all of this, here’s the future I predict. The media, which is almost uniformly on Goldberg’s side of this argument, will bend over backwards to cover all of the potential horrors she listed, sending reporters to southern states and seeking to paint the post-Roe world as nothing short of a handmaid’s nightmare. And just like Goldberg, the media will simultaneously ignore and overlook the thousands of new lives who exist as a result of this decision as if they aren’t relevant.

In other words, nothing will change in the near term. The biased, pro-choice media will keep doing what it has always done, all the wile pretending their bias doesn’t matter. So, for example, there are 11 people listed as having worked on producing this podcast, not including Coaston herself.  Is even one of them pro-life? Probably not. Anyone who was would be very hesitant to say so for fear of being shunned and ousted by the rest of their colleagues.